The Only “Thing” That Can Empower You is You

** This post originally appeared on Strangely Diabetic on March 6, 2012 and it's all about you...


It seems that every day we read a new announcement about some new health app or service that will empower you.

What a load of crap.

The only “thing” that can empower you is you.

You have to do all the work, accept all the responsibility, manage all the other participants (doctors, insurance companies, caregivers, etc) in your health care arena. I use the word arena because sometimes I spend more time managing all those others than I do managing my own condition. To tell the rather absurd truth, I’d really, really like to be in a cage fight with them all sometimes. You could recognize me because I’d be the guy with the chainsaw.

Do you know what a pencil, a hammer, a telephone, a car key and all these apps, social networking sites, devices, and services have in common?

They are all tools.

Simply tools, which by definition help us perform some task with, hopefully, less effort. But of course you need to use the right tool for the right task. I mean trying to use a hammer to drive a screw into a piece of wood is just going to get you hurt.

If people don’t benefit in some tangible way from using these apps or services, then they won’t be used. It needs to be rewarding. One of the most difficult things about managing a chronic condition such as diabetes and many others, is that if you do it right, nothing will happen.

Nothing will happen.

That’s a fantastic motivation to keep doing things isn’t it? It might be, however it provides you with exactly zero feedback (positive or negative) which makes staying motivated extremely difficult. In the era before social media, we relied on our doctors to help with motivation. Hopefully, they encouraged you and didn’t just try to scare you into compliance.

This is where power of social media and social apps come to light. You can get immediate feedback. Be it from someone online going “Attaboy” to getting a few points or perhaps a new badge (WOOT!), these all provide an immediate reward and that makes behaviors easier to change and then to maintain.

Since these new pieces of software and hardware are regarded as computer technology instead of “people technology”, they are often sold using the same sales process that I have heard for my 25 years in IT. “This will handle the problem and make it all better”.

Well, that is a half-truth at best. People will handle the problem. The real question is “Will this technology make my life easier on a day to day basis and how will it work for me?” Often people buying get sucked into the “it’s a fantastic silver bullet” spiel and once it is deployed… well, lets just say things unexpected can happen.

Remember, people handle problems. People solve problems.

Apps, devices, systems make handling problems easier (hopefully!)

You are a person. Given the right tools, you can empower yourself.

But you have to do it.

** I’m going to put a slight caveat in here. Not everyone is going to need or want to be an empowered patient. It takes a lot of work, honestly, so it is up to every individual to decide what is proper for them in their own situation. It is not proper for anyone to say you MUST do something in this regard, it is an extremely personal decision.

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Tags: chronic, empowement, engaged, illness, patient

Comment by Jacob's mom on April 10, 2012 at 4:44pm

well isnt that the truth, try teaching that to a 13 year old boy with diabetes! he actually handles things maturely and responsibly but gets down on himself and always seems to pull out the D card as the worst card he's been dealt. i think you are leaning more towards gadgets and social media which are going to help you or not but i'm thinking more that we are solely responsible for our own reactions to what life throws at us, it is wonderful to have family support or outside social support, support of our doctor ect. but we are all responsible for ourselves period, that includes our actions, reactions, and mood.. someday my son will mature and realize all this i can just keep leading alone and try to control my reactions, yes 300 bs's all day can be a huge downer and hard for me to keep a happy face as well. thanks for your thoughts and best wishes, amy

Comment by Scott on April 10, 2012 at 5:55pm

Hi Amy,

This post was really directed towards those that think those tools will solve all the issues they might face and you are right, they won't. As someone who used to be that 13 year-old, I totally understand. and agree, that we are the ones who are ultimately responsible for our own selves.

However, there is nothing that says that we have to do it alone. I spent nearly 40 years totally isolated in my diabetes and, honestly, that isolation was worse than the diabetes. I didn't even know I needed peer support until I found it. Social media makes it easier to find individuals in similar situations as yours such as condition, stage of life, music tastes, etc...

Not only do diabetics themselves need support, but our caregivers do as well. This is a lifelong condition that affects everyone in our lives to some extent.

If there was one thing I could do differently, it would have been to invent the Diabetic Online Community in 1970...

Comment by Riva Greenberg on April 10, 2012 at 6:20pm

Totally agree Scott. We are the captains of our ship and while new devices are great if they help us do things more easily, so we actually do them, taking yourself in hand and being responsible counts for more than if your meter has a spiffy background light.

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